Works By John Courtney Murray, S.J.

Woodstock Home | Woodstock Theological Center Library | Bibliography

[p. 11]

On the Structure of the Church-State Problem

by John Courtney Murray, S.J.

Throughout history the Church-State problem has always retained the same general structure, and the efforts of the Church toward its solution have always been guided by the same set of general principles. At the same time the problem has exhibited differences in the manner of its position, in consequence of the various historical forces operative in particular ages and situations. And these specific differences have contributed to alter the emphases placed by the Church upon one or other element within her body of unchanging principles. In turn these varying emphases have given different orientations to the action of the Church. The general purpose of this paper is to illustrate these four propositions.

I

From the standpoint of the Church the effort has constantly been to achieve and maintain, in terms of social fact as well as in terms of idea, a manner of social organization based on the traditional doctrine of a juridical and social dualism characterized by a primacy of the spiritual over the political. The effort has met opposition from the tendency, seemingly inherent in the reality of the State, towards an organization of society governed by a juridical and social monism marked by a primacy of the political over the spiritual. The history of Church-State relationships has been basically a record of the clash between these two contrary tendencies,

[p. 12]

and a record of the measure of success that each has alternately achieved.

The clash has been ineluctable. It has often been remarked that the essential political effect of Christianity was to destroy the classical view of society as a single homogenous structure within which the political power, however institutionalized, stood forth as the principal representative of society both in its religious and in its political aspects. The new Christian view was based on a radical distinction between the sacred and the secular: "Two there are, august Emperor, by which this world is ruled on title of original and sovereign right—the consecrated authority of the priests and the royal power." In the emphatic word, "two," in this celebrated sentence of Gelasius I, lay the virtualities of a great revolution. The family of mankind under the Christian dispensation is to be organized in two societies, under two laws, emanating from two authorities. The two are not societies, laws and authorities in a univocal sense, but only in an analogous sense, by reason of a radical diversity in origin, end, and means to their respective ends. The two are irreducible one to the other, as grace is irreducible to nature and nature to grace. At the same time the two are not simply incommensurable, much less antinomous; they are related to each other as nature to grace and grace to nature. And the essential condition of their harmonious relation is the maintenance of the primacy of the spiritual—the primacy of the spiritual power over the temporal power, of the ecclesiastical society over the secular society, of the law of the Gospel over the human law.

This dualism of Church and State has created one of the permanent nodes of that pervasive tension introduced into the whole of human life by the Christian fact, the advent of Christ the King, the promulgation of the New Law and the supernatural statute of the Church. The dualism is not natural; indeed its establishment involved a certain dislocation of the natural order, a diminution of the stature and scope which the political power would have possessed in another, purely natural dispensation. This is why the tension produced by the dualism has constantly shown a tendency to dissolve into some manner of monism. The tendency is inherent in one of the poles of the tension, the State. As the political expression of human reason, the State seems to share that tendency, inherent in reason, which has been the origin of all heresy—the tendency to subsume all things under itself and reduce all things to itself, to

[p. 13]

fashion a unitary rational order, and to close this order against whatever would resist rationalization. Moreover, this tendency to rationalize—in this case, to politicize—all aspects of the life of man, which is inherent in the State as reason, seems to be strengthened by the fact that the State is likewise power. Of itself power undertakes to impose order; therefore it tends to effect a unification. And in its drive toward political unity, which is the bulwark of power as well as its reason for being, the State seeks to subordinate to itself and to its task all the forces that make for social cohesion, notably that most powerful cohesive force, religion.

This tendency toward a juridical and social monism has been historically visible even in states that bore the name of Christian. It appeared at the very moment when the Christian dualistic view first gained historical recognition, in the empire of Constantine. The Byzantine empire showed the monistic tendency in full tide. And it was part of the dynamism of the national states during the era of royal and confessional absolutism. In these instances the effort was in greater or lesser degree to reduce the Church to the State. But the tendency was likewise visible in another form in the medieval Christian commonwealth. It appeared not so much in social fact (the Christian dualism maintained itself in terms of fact), as in social theory—in those theories of hierocratic stamp which exhibited a will to reduce the State to the Church, largely under the influence of a principle which derived from reason rather than from revelation, Duo principia ponere nefas est.

The tendency has manifested itself more strikingly than ever in the modern state. And the reasons are not far to seek. First, the power of the modern bureaucratic state outmatches anything known in the most absolute of past monarchies, in the breadth of its scope and in the means at hand for the enforcement of its will. Again, all of modern politics has been dominated by the monist concept of the indivisibility of sovereignty. Finally, a new idea, unknown to medieval times, has increasingly entered political history—the idea that the state is not simply an executive agency for limited purposes, to be directed by the organized moral conscience of society, but a moral end in itself, an entity with its own self-determined spiritual substance, the embodiment of an ethos, the vehicle of an ideology—a secularist ideology—which purports to be the basic and sufficient principle of national and social unity.

It is easy to see why this tendency towards a juridical and social

[p. 14]

monism has been the Church's permanent enemy. Its chief vice lies in the fact that it more or less completely transforms the res sacra into a res politica. It can do this in two ways. One movement can be against that suprapolitical res sacra which is the Church herself—her faith, her unity, her administration. The effort here is so to build the Church into the structure of the legal and political order as to make her instrumentum regni, a simple adjunct of political sovereignty, subordinate to its purpose. Another movement, more common in modern times, goes against the intrapolitical res sacra, the res sacra in temporalibus. This concept embraces all those things which have their roots within the temporal order of human life and are a part of it, at the same time that, in their finality or in their Christian mode of existence, they transcend the purposes of the political order. Perhaps the chief example is the institution of the family—the marriage contract itself, and the relationship of husband and wife, parent and child. Here the effort is to politicize these sacred things in the temporal order by bringing them under the single undivided jurisdiction of the state. They are totally enclosed within the political order, and, as the political order itself is made a closed order, these sacred things are set beyond the reach of the spiritual authority of the Church.

In either event, whether the Church be included within the political order or excluded from it, the result is the same: a profanation of the sacred takes place. The order of primacies is inverted. The inviolable distinction between the sacred and the secular is subverted. The result may indeed be a unification; it is ordinarily in the name of the "integrity" of the political order that the process of politicization of the sacred goes forward. But the unity created is a false unity, achieved at the expense of right order. What happens is a reduction of Gelasius' "two" to "one," not an organization of the two, under respect for their distinction, into a true unity of order.

Moreover, the further fatal consequence of this subversion of the right order between the sacred and the secular is the destruction or diminution of the spiritual freedom of man. The common man instinctively knows this. He knows, as by natural inclination, that no man can be free if nothing be sacred from the power of the state. In the name of its own freedom the human spirit spontaneously resists the reduction of all human life to political terms and the total enclosure within the state of all that the spirit, human and divine,

[p. 15]

creates upon earth. In this sense the divine mission of the Church, which is to preserve the distinction between the sacred and the secular (and, if you will, to furnish this distinction with an armature of power), constitutes a polarization of a natural human tendency.

It is a primal mission of the Church to preserve her own being in all its sacredness against any profanation by enclosure within the state. It is likewise her mission to preserve the original sacrednesses inherent in human social life from complete politicization by the secular power. But her discharge of this twofold function in regard of the temporal order has a far-reaching consequence even in what concerns the earthly destiny of man. It is in effect an espousal of the spiritual freedom of mankind and a patronage of that unity of order which is the complement and condition of freedom. It is inherent in the mission of the Church that she be the patron of both freedom and order, as it is inherent in the nature of things that both freedom and order should need effective patronage. (The latter idea is uncommon today, when it is still widely supposed that only freedom needs patronage, and order is expected somehow automatically to result.) Any movement towards a monistic manner of social organization is inimical to freedom by the same token that it is destructive of order. For this reason the secular effort of the Church to install and strengthen a structure of juridical and social dualism in human society has been an effective patronage of the twin principles upon which a free and orderly society depends.

II

One may discern in almost any historical phase of Church-State relations the same general problematic created by the clash, more or less resounding, between the opposing assertions: "Two there are . . . " and: "One there is. . . ." But the historical dynamism behind the latter assertion has varied. To speak only of modern times, this dynamism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the royal absolutism that found its theories in Widdrington, Barclay and James I. In the nineteenth century it was French republicanism—the whole complex of forces that went under the name of the Revolution. In the twentieth century it is a new revolutionary dynamism, totalitarianism, either in its finished and complete Soviet form or in its inchoative form, the totalitarianizing tendency inherent in the contemporary idolatry of the democratic process.

[p. 16]

All of these movements have looked, or still look, to the realization in social fact of the same idea: "One there is. . . ." But each sought this same objective in its own way and under invocations of different names. Royal absolutism made its monistic pretenses in the name of the divine right of kings; French republicanism, in the name of the sovereignty of the people, as the social projection of the absolutely autonomous sovereignty of reason; Soviet totalitarianism, in the name of the class destined to sovereignty, and its organ, the party, whose function is to be the servant and ally of the materialist forces of history. The contemporary totalitarianizing democrat urges his new monism in the name of something less clear. He urges a monism, not so much of the political order itself, as of a political technique, the democratic process, the formal processes of freedom, which tend to be for him the single substantial constituent of a democratic social order. His proposition is that all issues of the intellectual and moral, as well as of the formally political, order are to be regarded as, or resolved into, political issues, and settled by the omnicompetent political technique of majority vote. On the surface the monism is one of process, but the underlying idea is a monism of power: "One there is whereby this world is ruled, the power in the people, above and beyond and beside which there is no other power." The inspiration of the idea is still a rationalism, a secularist mystique of individual freedom, softened—or, if you will, clouded—by a vague moral idealism that regards the power in the people, in distinction from all other powers, as ultimately and inevitably beneficent in its exercise. And this optimistic rationalism is further buttressed and given a still more rosy hue by a hearty confidence in the expanding achievements of science as reason's chosen instrument for whatever salvation man may aspire to.

There are therefore differences in the historical dynamisms which urge the enthronement of that monism of power whose formula is anti-Gelasian: "One there is. . ." And these differences make a difference to the Church and alter the accent of her utterances and the lines of her action. She does indeed always fight under the same banner on which is emblazoned the pregnant device of Gelasius: "Two there are. . ." And the stake in the struggle is always the same—the freedom of the Church to dispense the sacred things—in brief, the Word and the sacraments—committed to her charge; and the freedom of the human spirit as anchored to the inviolability from political profanation of the sacred things in the temporal order.

[p. 17]

Moreover, the Church always fights against the same hostile flag, whether it be unfurled by the Emperor Anastasius, by Marshal Stalin, by some tweedy, pipe-smoking professor, or by some hot-eyed, ink-stained journalist.

On the other hand, the Church must conduct the struggle on the historical plane against concrete historical forces in their specific modality. The weapons are words, of course, but the argument itself is no mere verbal one. Nor has the Church's part in it been confined to the utterance of transtemporal truths couched in formulas long finished in their language. If the metaphor be admissible, the contest is fought out, as it were, between social organisms, each of which grapples with the other where it stands at the moment and counters hold with hold. This historical character of the conflict makes it necessary that the Church should have a strategy as well as a goal, an idea of how principles may at the moment be applied as well as a grasp of the permanent principles themselves.

In general it may be said that the strategy of the Church is to seek in terms of legal and social institutions such an application of her principles, under vital adaptation of them to political circumstance, as will effectively counter the current monism and the specific dynamism behind it (whatever it may concretely be), and effectively insure the operative existence on the historical plane of her own doctrine and all its implications: "Two there are. . . . " It must be noted that the relation between Church and State is not an abstract relation and cannot be. Its purpose is dynamic, to be fulfilled in the temporal order. The end in view is a certain management of society, the exertion of a spiritual influence on that living action which is public order, the imparting of a moral direction to the total political movement. Therefore the Church-State relation has to assume concrete and operative form in institutions. The institutions may be symbolic, as in the case of the medieval consecration of the Emperor or the ceremony of investiture in the royal or ducal Eigenkirche. Or they may be customary, as in the case of certain rights of the medieval papacy within the Empire. Or they may be formally legal, as in the case of the Concordats of modern times, or the legal institution of "establishment," or the constitutional guarantee of parity or freedom of religion.

This fact—that the Church-State relation, though governed by unchanging principles, must assume concrete institutional form—has two consequences of considerable importance. First, it inevitably

[p. 18]

subjects the Church-State relation, as far as its concrete forms are concerned, to the law of historical change. For all the divinely established character of the Church herself, the actual relation between Church and State, especially in its legal forms, is a matter of human institutions. And all human institutions, even those which embody some permanent idea, are in some sense historically conditioned. Their fashioning, though inspired by idea and principle, is likewise affected by contingent fact. In our present case, political contingencies play their determining role. For instance, the appearance of the institution of the Eigenkirche in the Frankish kingdom was related to the political development of the Frankish kingdom itself and its disappearance was in considerable part consequent upon the rise of the Empire. The modern Concordat or the formally legal establishment of Catholicism as the religion of the state were likewise consequent upon political developments—the rise of the nation-state, the rationalization of public law concomitant on the centralization of public power, the peculiar political position of the king in the absolutist era (his status as the single and only channel through which the spiritual authority of the Pope could reach the people or even the bishops), the later legal phenomenon of the written constitution, etc.

Since they are historically conditioned, human institutions—even necessary human institutions—cannot hope for total immobile permanence. The Faustian cry to the fleeting moment (Verweile doch, du bist so schön!) is unreal and therefore hopeless. The point is clear, say, from the history of the two necessary institutions of the family and of private property. As an idea, private property is a dictate of the natural law; but the institutionalizations of the idea in our era of finance capitalism differ widely from those prevalent under feudal regimes. So, too, the modalities of the husband-wife, and parent-child, relation exhibited in today's family, even when it is properly Christian, are not those which obtained between Abraham and Sara, or between the nineteenth-century Bavarian paterfamilias and his brood. To this law of historical development and change the institutional expressions of the Church-State relation constitute, on the evidence of history, no exception. If anything about history is certain, it is that history knows no unchangeably "ideal" institutional realization of any idea. What one hopes for in history is that ideas themselves should stay alive and present, and succeed

[p. 19]

in paying the price of life and presence, which is a vital adaptation to what, around them, is present and alive.

There is therefore a second consequence. The principles governing the Church-State relation are not of the strategic order but of the order of truth; they are not dependent for their truth upon the contingencies of history. But the strategy of the Church does reckon with such contingencies. It revolves upon institutions—such institutions as, in certain circumstances of space and time and political fact, may represent an effective incarnation of principle. And this fact involves the risk of a lag behind history, whose movement, for better or for worse, is continuous, unlagging. The Church undertakes to be the protagonist of truth, not simply in the unclouded air of disembodied principle but on the dusty plane of earthly history, where the truth must somehow, so to speak, take institutional flesh before it can avail to save. The Church is therefore obliged to be the protagonist of those currently existent institutions which embody or support the truth, however contingently, however defectively. The truth in our present case—indeed perhaps in every case—is something to be done and not merely said. And its doing depends on certain forms of action—those organized forms of actions which are called institutions.

One may readily see how this manner of concrete historical engagement in the cause of truth involves a risk. The risk is that, in the course of defending the truth, one may defend certain institutional expressions of it upon which the passage of time and the process of historical change have already passed sentence, with whatever measure of justice or injustice (and the measure is usually mixed). In defending her own inherent rights the Church has been obliged also to defend certain historic rights which accrued to them; but this is to risk claiming as historic right what may no longer be rightful because its historic basis has dissolved in the flux of time. So Pius VI claimed from the King of Naples the annual white mule, finely caparisoned, as the symbol of feudal faith; the trouble was that the relation of vassalage no longer existed. So too Boniface VIII asserted a concrete relation with Philip the Fair that was, in the historical context, unreal and unrealizable. France was no longer a fief of the Holy See but a new political phenomenon, an autonomous territorial kingdom; and Philip himself was a new political portent, the King of a nation-state, imperator in regno suo. At this distance it is clear that in the Bull Unam Sanctam Boniface VIII was con-

[p. 20]

tending for a conception of Christian society that, however noble in idea, was not then actually viable, if indeed it ever had been. For a variety of reasons that need not concern us here, the concept of "one society, two swords" could have only literary, not political, existence. Temporal society had changed, as had its swordsman and its sword. The Bernardine and Victorine and Aegidian theologoumenon would still persist as a theme in the texts of canonists for more than two centuries, until even the canonists relinquished it. (In the end, to adapt Santayana's phrase, they did not refute it, but quietly bade it goodbye.) But long before this negative literary farewell history had left it behind.

This risk of a lag behind history is always taken by every conservative force; and the Church is frankly such. The risk is fully worthwhile; indeed it is as necessary as conservatism itself. (It might be added that it is also necessary that not everyone should be conservative; otherwise how would there be any gains of progress for the conservatives to protect and consolidate?) To avert the dangers of the risk the Church relies upon her thinkers. She looks to them to prepare the positions to which she herself can retire or advance. Their function is to do a double work of reflection; first, on the tradition, to understand it in its purity; and second, on the movement of history, to discern the rational from the irrational in its progress, the workings of the Holy Spirit from the human dialectic of egoism and error. Upon the intelligence and integrity of this work of reflection depends the possibility of suggesting what manner of presentation and vital adaptation of traditional principle is required in order to maintain the Church in that position of presence to the age which is the condition of her saving mission. When the studium fails to fulfill its function, the magisterium in the normal course of providence falls off in its effectiveness. If, for instance, Boniface VIII had sought light elsewhere than in Giles of Rome, there might have been no tragedy of Anagni—who knows? And as it was part of the tragedy of Pius IX that he was not surrounded by men of learning and wisdom, so it was part of the glory of Leo XIII that his own high intelligence found stimulus and support in the stirrings of great thought that marked the latter quarter of the nineteenth century.

III

The foregoing has been concerned with the general Church-State problematic—the essential sameness of the general structure,

[p. 21]

and the alterations of its contours that historical forces induce, alterations that in turn create crises of thought, upon whose successful resolution depends the efficacy of the Church's effort to apply those principles which make for freedom and order in society. The point now is to indicate the alteration in the problematic that has taken place since the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth. The description will be simplified, perhaps oversimplified. Yet the method of simplicity is one followed by the Church herself in her concern for basic issues, which are always simple.

The nineteenth-century enemy was the ancient one—a social and juridical monism. But it took the form of a false theory of freedom that was destructive of order, notably of that element of order which is the freedom of the Church. The theory was false because its premise was the rationalism of the Enlightenment in all its uni-dimensionality. The theory was operative because it found a political expression in French republicanism. And its operation was powerful because behind it was all the emotional dynamism of the Revolution.

Its most spectacular and sustained purpose was the destruction of an old order characterized by a high measure of authoritarianism; conspicuous in it were the differing but potent authorities of the Church, the monarchy, and the privileged social classes. In the political order one of the chosen weapons for the destruction of the old order was "the modern liberties." In their historical appearance and their concrete functioning they possessed a special dissolving force by reason of their special and conscious inspiration—the rationalist theory of the absolutely autonomous freedom of human reason as the single architect of all order. This monistic concept of a closed rational order then found political expression in the concept of a closed order wherein "the sovereign people" acting through the forms of freedom was to be the single sovereign, juridically omnipotent.

No one, of course, will deny that there was much in the old historical order that needed to be destroyed. The trouble was that in the course of its destruction a principle essential to the concept of order itself was likewise destroyed—the freedom of the Church and the inviolability of the res sacra from profanation by transfer into the domain of the res politica. The history of this process need not be recounted in detail; it ran from the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of July, 1790, through the educational reforms associated

[p. 22]

with the name of Jules Ferry, to the climactic Law of Separation of 1905. The goal of the whole process was a monism of power within the state, under reduction of the Church to the status of a corporation of private law regulated by governmental statute. Against her old enemy in this new modality the Church directed a threefold action—diplomatic, magisterial, and intellectual or theological.

The diplomatic effort looked to the restoration or maintenance of whatever measure of the status quo ante could be restored or maintained, through the technique of legal stabilization of Church-State relations by the instrumentality of Concordats. The direction of the effort was traditional—to rescue as far as possible the freedom of the Church, and to protect the distinction of jurisdictions based on the distinction of the sacred and the political. With the tragic vicissitudes of this diplomatic effort we need not concern ourselves here.

The more basic effort of the Church was magisterial. It consisted of an absolute, total and uncompromising protest against the infringement of her freedom and the politicization of her sacred things; it likewise consisted of an equally absolute opposition to the idea behind the state monism that was destroying true freedom and right order—the rationalist idea of "freedom." This absolute opposition was pitched on the high plane of truth, primarily the ancient truth: "Two there are. . . . " But then what may be called the "law of overflow" began to operate. The doctrinal defense of the freedom of the Church and the inviolability of the sacred, which are essential to the concept of right order, carried over with greater or less emphasis to a defense of the institutions which had furnished an armature for these principles in the old historical order—an armature that was not perfect but was certainly more protective than the subsequent nakedness. In other words, upon the basic doctrinal conflict between two ideas which stood in pure opposition to each other ("Two there are. . ." and "One there is. . ."), there was built another conflict whose terms were not so pure, between the institutions of the old "Union of Throne and Altar" and the institutions of the new "separation of Church and State," as these latter grew with successive pieces of legislation.

These two conflicts—call them the doctrinal and the historical—were not readily distinguishable at the time of their turbulent raging, when the injuriousness of the "separation" served to cloud

[p. 23]

from view the ambiguousness of the prior "union," which had been brought into being as much, or more, by forces inherent in royal absolutism as by ideas inherent in Catholic tradition. In any event, at our distance in time these two conflicts can and should be distinguished.

The law of overflow operated also in another respect. The absolute doctrinal opposition to the rationalist premises of "the modern liberties" carried over, again with greater or less emphasis, to a disapproval of these "modern liberties" as political institutions (the more so in that these institutions in their concrete intent and functioning were more than means of management of the political order; they were also engines of war against traditional religion). In other words, the primary doctrinal conflict between opposing philosophies of freedom found echo on the more properly historical plane in a conflict between opposing institutional methods for the conduct of political affairs—the method of authority characteristic of the old regime and the method of freedom characteristic of the new regime. Again these two conflicts are now distinguishable and should be distinguished.

The magisterial action of the Church was therefore pure in itself, confined to the plane of principle, but its overflow on the historical plane revealed some ambiguity. One need not greatly regret the ambiguity. At a time when the process of politicizing all human life was beginning to accelerate its pace the Church did a great service, not least to her ancient human cause of freedom and order in society, by resolving, even with a measure of ruthlessness, issues falsely presented as purely political into issues moral and theological, and by solving these issues in their proper terms. Perhaps the greatest danger at the time was lest the issues themselves be obscured.

The third action of the Church, which may be called intellectual or theological, was of a somewhat later growth and of a more tentative nature. It was an effort to find some intellectual basis for at least a modus vivendi with the new order which, whether one liked it or not, had come to stay. This was no easy task, especially in view of the radical vice of the new order, its roots in a false philosophy of men and society, the Liberalismo which the Spaniard calls pecado, as indeed it is. The best that could be done at the time to reach this modus vivendi was the casting up of the distinction between "thesis" and "hypothesis."

The distinction had one great merit at the time. On the one

[p. 24]

hand, it registered the Church's opposition to the new "Liberal state" in its concrete theory, dynamism, and actual religious and social effects. On the other hand it recognized that this new manner of state was "there," and had to be lived in, willy nilly. As a polemic statement the thesis-hypothesis disjunction was adequate; but it had the disadvantage common to all polemic statements. Even apart from its lack of venerable antecedents in traditional vocabulary, it lacked universality. No one has ever demonstrated its applicability to the greatest, fundamentally most sound, and historically most fruitful political experiment of modern times, the United States of America, whose inspiration was not Continental Liberalism, but the older liberal tradition of Western politics. Moreover, even in the area for which the thesis-hypothesis theory was devised, Western Continental Europe, it could be only temporarily valid, valid for the duration of the specific polemic state of affairs characteristic of the nineteenth century.

In that age the Church was espousing the cause of order against a false "freedom" that threatened it; and by inevitable, if perhaps unhappy historical consequence, this espousal of the cause of order as a structured idea shaded over into an approval of the old historical order-by-authority and a disapproval of the new order-by-freedom. The thesis-hypothesis disjunction was born of this controversy and used as a weapon in it. It is therefore not surprising that the disjunction should contain not only an affirmation of the abstract structural principles of order but also and implicitly an approval of the concrete political and legal institutions of the old historical order; that it should contain not only a denial of the pseudo-principle of the new historical order but also a disapproval of its free institutions. These complex implications of the thesis-hypothesis disjunction were inevitable by reason of the role it had to play in a controversy in which the doctrinal and the historical were mixed, and questions of principle were replaced by questions of institutions. The thesis could not fail to imply some espousal of the method of authority in political affairs, just as the hypothesis could not fail to imply some rejection of the method of freedom. The result was inconvenient, if necessary; for in this sense both thesis and hypothesis verge in their implications toward some diminution of the cardinal principle that is the heart of the ancient Gelasian doctrine, the freedom of the Church and her transcendence to all political forms. Actually, this principle first began to receive its proper stress in

[p. 25]

modern times with Leo XIII, whose major, if not wholly successful, effort was to reduce the ambiguities in the Church-State controversy and posit it singly on its proper doctrinal basis. It is significant that Leo XIII nowhere uses the thesis-hypothesis disjunction. The core of his doctrine was his emphatic and reiterated and developed statement of the Gelasian dualism: "Two there are. . . ."

If we turn now to the twentieth century, we can see a significant alteration of the Church-State problematic. The old enemy is still abroad, but in a new and more threatening form. The old situation in which the idea of right order was endangered by a false theory of freedom has largely given way to a new situation in which the true idea of freedom is endangered by a false theory of order. In some diminished measure the new threat is latent in the enormously powerful and positive, centralized, bureaucratic, social-service and social-welfare state that has succeeded the negative, laissez-faire, "umpire" state of nineteenth-century theory, and that now makes increasingly extensive and onerous claims upon the individual and the family unit. The new threat loomed blatantly in the Nazi regime. But it exists in its finished form in Communism, as an ideology and as a power-system. Here is the new Enemy, capitalized, in whose shadow all other dangers pale.

The movement of the enemy is towards a monism of power in a tighter and more complete sense than history has ever known. The goal is a new kind of order, and the chosen instrument for its attainment is the police-power of the state exercised with devastating thoroughness in all areas of human life, even of human thought. Within this order freedom perishes at its roots and in all the forms that it has traditionally assumed—the freedom of the Church, the freedom of sacred things from profanation at the hands of political power, the freedom of association that is the condition of political freedom to share in the direction of the res publica, and even the freedom of the human mind itself to search for truth and embrace it when found.

Continental Liberalism had distorted and disorganized the structured concept of freedom by exaggerating beyond bounds its rational component. But the concept still retained at least one saving note that rescued its root from withering away; freedom was still regarded as the endowment of the human personality. But within the Communist order the idea of freedom is not merely distorted; it perishes altogether, because it is made, no longer the endowment of

[p. 26]

the individual, but the exclusive prerogative of the state (or of the party which is in effect the state). And even as such, freedom is in theory no more than a successful servitude to the materialist historical dialectic.

The new order and its principle, totalitarian state power, are radically false to a depth and extent not matched by the principle of the old Liberalist order that Communism seems to destroy. The premises of the new order—the Marxist concept of man and history, as completed by the Leninist-Stalinist concept of power as totalitarian and imperialist, are vicious to a degree far beyond the vices of the rationalism of the Enlightenment. The latter represented a decadence of the liberal tradition whose origins are Greek and Roman, Germanic and Christian. But Communism completely subverts and overthrows the liberal tradition in its essence, and marks a reversion to a paganism, marked by a reabsorption of man into the processes of nature and history, that is darker than the paganism of pre-Christian times; for it is not the darkness before a dawn, but a night falling upon a day that knew its brightnesses.

Moreover, the fact is that in striking at the essence of the liberal tradition Communism strikes at the condition upon which the existence of Christianity in this world as an organized society seems, humanly speaking, to depend. This is the crucial fact that seems today to have received indisputable proof. Today the spiritual freedom of the Church seems everywhere linked to the political freedom of the people and to that limitation of governmental power by the right of the human person which is of the essence of the liberal tradition, entrenched in it by its long alliance with the Christian tradition. Under the conditions created by the decadence of the liberal tradition into Liberalism Christianity could at least live. But the experience of Communist-dominated lands seems to have demonstrated that Christianity cannot long hope even to live in this world, if the liberal tradition that was its secular support is altogether cancelled out of history.

In this present situation the strategy of the Church has undergone important alterations in consequence of new and necessary doctrinal emphases. Against the old enemy in his new form the Church again deploys a threefold action—a magisterial, an intellectual or theological, and a third action, not now diplomatic but social.

The old diplomatic effort looked to the enforcement upon government of some manner of Christian attitude and orientation; it

[p. 27]

sought the alliance of the rulers of the Church with the rulers of the state in the legal organization of society. The new social action looks rather to the people, and seeks an alliance between the spiritual authority of the Church and a regenerated people in effecting the restoration of a civilization somehow Christian in all its institutions, not only legal but political, economic, and social. This new social action affirms both a fact and a principle—the fact that the focus of power in societies where the elements of right order still endure has shifted to the people, and the principle that so it ought to be. Insofar as the diplomatic action of the Church still continues, it is subordinate to this social action. The new orientation began with Leo XIII, who firmly shifted the terms of the major problem from the limited ones, "Church and State," to the broader one, "Church and human society."

The magisterial action of the Church still looks to its traditional objective—the assertion of the freedom of the Church, and the maintenance of a total opposition to the ideas and forces that would destroy or diminish this freedom. This means at the moment a total opposition to the new order in all its falseness, its perversion of the concept of freedom and its exaltation of totalitarian power as the single agent of order. But the law of overflow still operates. The doctrinal affirmation of the freedom of the Church and the doctrinal rejection of totalitarianism carries over on the historical plane to a defense of those human institutions of religious, civil, and political freedom with which in the contemporary situation the cause of the Church's freedom is historically linked. These institutions do in fact provide the necessary armature for the protection of the freedom of the sacred.

Similarly, the Church's opposition to the current monism of state power and her newly accented affirmation of the ancient Gelasian dualism carry over to a new affirmation of the political dualism of society and government which, as Watkins has pointed out, was born of the dualism of Church and State and became the most important structural rib of the liberal tradition. The cardinal assertion of the new order is that the power is singly in government and functional to purposes upon which the party-in-power alone decides. Against this assertion the Church affirms with new insistence, not possible in the days of a rationalist "sovereignty of the people," the principle which was foundational in the medieval Christian commonwealth, was obscured during the era of royal absolutism, and falsi-

[p. 28]

fied by the Enlightenment—the principle that the power is in government by consent of the people, that government indeed has the power, but as an executive agency subject to another "power," the spiritual and moral power inherent in the organized conscience of society, the people, whereby the purposes and actions of government are to be judged, directed and corrected.

Thus the logic of the new affirmation of the old dualism of Church and State and of society and government, as made in this unique historical juncture, moves an inevitable step farther to an affirmation of the method of freedom within society. This is the method presently necessary for the preservation and effective operation of the traditional dualisms. The conscience of society, mediating the demands of the natural law and the law of the Gospel, is the natural immanent, active principle of resistance to the movement of government towards a monism of power. Therefore the conscience of society must be enabled to articulate its demands and enforce them. And in a day of danger to the dignity of man in his political dimension it is fitting as well as necessary that he should be empowered to voice the demands of his spiritual dignity through those effective channels of utterance and of political change which are the ordered set of free institutions now known as "democratic."

If then one must condense into a phrase the general orientation of the Church's action today, the phrase might be: "A free Church amid a free people." The formula has very different resonances than the slogan of the Risorgimento: "A free Church in a free State." The latter hid the juridical and social monism that was the rationalist program; the former is pregnant of the juridical and social dualism that has been the traditional Christian program.

The third action of the Church is of the intellectual order. Actually, it is a prolongation of Leo XIII's great effort toward concordia, the ending of the long alienation between the Church and human society and its modem dynamisms. This action is evident in the efforts being made by Christian thinkers to re-examine the concept of democracy, its history, its true philosophical origins, its debt to the ethos of the Gospel, its institutions, etc. As long as the energies of the Church were absorbed in protest against the monistic, and at bottom absolutist, "democracy" that issued from the Revolution, it was not possible to undertake this more positive and constructive work of political thought. One cannot, for instance, imagine Pius XII's 1944 Christmas Allocution being delivered by

[p. 29]

Leo XIII. Again, though one may find in Leo XIII a developed theory of political authority, one will find no comparably full theory of citizenship, no adequate analysis of the great concept that was newly taking shape in the nineteenth century, the concept of "the people" in their total relation to government. In Leo XIII the "good citizen" is still pretty much the "good subject," the man who obeys the laws. There is little recognition of other functions of citizenship than obedience to lawful authority. The preoccupation of Leo XIII was in fact with the bases of authority in a world in which they were dissolving, not with the functions of freedom in the body politic—the contemporary preoccupation in a world in which the threat is to the freedom of the body politic.

This effort of political thought has been stimulated by the twentieth-century totalitarian experience, which has set the democratic development in a new light. The problem now is not to stop this development in favor of a return to authoritarian methods, but rather to save it from being stopped by a ruthless totalitarianism. It is not, of course, a question of the Church making a belated peace with the rationalism of the Enlightenment. The invitation to do this, proffered to Pius IX, was rejected in the Syllabus; and the rejection is as uncompromising today as ever. But it is a question of disengaging the concept of democracy as a political system from its rationalist premises and of purifying it of its monistic ethos. It is a question of constructing a positive theory of the method of freedom in society, under appeal to principles embedded in the body of Christian truth and in the experience of Christian political history. Many of these principles will need development, since their expression and institutionalization may have been only inchoative; so, for instance, the basic medieval distinction, lost in the absolutist era (and not quite recovered even by Leo XIII) between "society" and "state" or government.

It is a question of showing that the "modern freedoms" as political institutions are as capable of projection from right as from wrong premises, and that this is true also of freedom of religion as a political principle, resting on a sound political theory of the limitations of governmental power, implying a disallowance of legal establishments in the post-Reformation sense, but not implying (as in Continental Liberalism) any "atheism of the state," any denial of the social obligation of worship, any false "separation" of religion and society (or education), any restriction of the freedom of the

[p. 30]

Church within society, any pseudo-neutrality of government towards the interests of religion, any monistic, "closed" concept of the political order, any destructive secularization of the political process.

One intellectual problem therefore centers about the theory of democratic society and of government by the people (as well as of and for the people). There ensues another problem—that of the relation of the Church to the state in its democratic form, as structured in accord with the complex principle of the freedom of the people. This problem too is speculative, not polemic. Its starting point is not the simple recognition that the democratic state is "there" in sheer point of brute fact, but rather the sincere acknowledgment that this political form is good in demonstrable point of sound principle. One need not acknowledge it to be perfect in theory, much less in practice; it is enough to say that it is good, and relatively perfectible, in dependence on the kind of human persons, the quality of "the people" who live in it and make it work.

Reflection on the problem of the relation between the Church and the democratic state, as this political form appears in today's historical perspectives, cannot be short-circuited by any peremptory statement that the problem is already solved—in terms of the thesis-hypothesis disjunction. The fact is that this nineteenth-century distinction is no longer particularly useful. It reflects a different state of the question, and it was part of an effort that was polemic, not positive. Like the theory of "the two swords," it has had its moment in history. There are, of course, elements of truth in it; they must be saved, by all means, and it is not difficult to save them. But for the rest, it is, as again in the case of the "two-swords" theory, a matter not so much of refuting this nineteenth-century thesis. Concretely, it is not a question of openly allying the Church with democracy as the old French Right allied the Church with monarchy. Nor is it allowable, in an excess of polemical zeal against the current myth about the incompatibility of Catholicism with democracy, to attempt to show some native kinship between the two, after the fashion of the liberal Protestant who claims democracy as the political expression of his religious faith. Again, it is not a question of condemning past or present realizations of the confessional state, or of setting up a counter-ideal or even an alternate ideal to this pseudo-ideal of an earlier era.

The approach to the present problem must be from more serene and solidly established viewpoints. There is, first, the fact of the

[p. 31]

relativity of all concrete political forms, which forbids the incorporation of any of them into what would purpose to be a trans-temporal statement of the doctrine of the Church. Secondly, the supreme commanding viewpoint is furnished by the cardinal principle that has emerged with increasing clarity in these latter generations of turbulent political change—the principle of the transcendence of the Church to all political forms, as the consequence and condition of her freedom. Even in her institutional, historical aspect the Church is of a radically distinct order of social reality than the state; therefore an essential part of the problem is to preserve this radical distinction. When it is obscured, the primacy of the spiritual is by the same token damaged; the Church is inevitably drawn down to the level of the temporal. Obviously, the transcendence of the Church to the state does not mean their "separation" in the sense of Continental Liberalism. But it does forbid their "union" in the sense of the ancien régime.

Indeed the term "union" tends to be misleading, as the term "separation" tends to be meaningless (there is no such univocal thing as "separation"). The true word is "relation." But it must be understood that the relation is not of the order of being, as when one "incomplete substance" is ordered to another to form a subsistent unum per se; here is the limp in the traditional "body-and-soul" metaphor. The relation does not somehow draw the state into the Church as part of its structure, as [an] aspect of itself, an instrument for its specific purposes; this was the defect in the medieval idea. Nor does the relation somehow draw the Church into the state as part of its legal order, a constituent of its political unity, a support of its government; this was the erroneous idea of absolutism, in both its royal and its popular forms. The relation of Church and State is not constitutive of the being of either or of a third being somehow distinct from both. The relation is in the order of action. It implies a dynamic relatedness of distinct purposes and of distinct lines of action toward these purposes, under respect of their proper hierarchy. Leo XIII had, and incessantly repeated, the essential word, concordia, a harmony of actions, a cooperation that respects the integrity of both operative principles and of their specific operations, at the same time that it collineates both operations towards one common, complex, hierarchically structured end and good, which is the perfection of man in the distinct but related orders of nature and grace.

[p. 32]

As a matter of method, it would seem that the present problem of Church and State could be most fruitfully discussed under conscious abstraction from those categories (e.g., "union" vs. "separation") into which the discussion settled during the nineteenth century. Actually, the first step in the intellectual task of the moment is a ressourcement (to use the convenient French word). The whole tradition needs to be reviewed, not simply that segment of it which tends to dominate the ordinary manual de jure publico, whose separate existence as a treatise dates from the nineteenth century and reflects its anxieties. If this ressourcement is properly theological, not directed to polemic or apologetic purposes, and if it is informed by a sense for the relativities of history and of the political forms that history brings forth, one might expect that it would serve to accomplish a vitally important work of discernment—the discernment of unchanging principles from their variant applications, the discernment of the permanent purposes of the Church in her relation to the state from the contingent means of achieving these purposes that were relative to political and social circumstance. In the light of this work of discernment it would then be possible to elaborate a unitary theory of the Church-State relation that would be fixed enough to do justice to the absolute exigencies of principle and also flexible enough to take account of the contingencies of changing political situations.

Search the Murray Collection: